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Other News: Taliban Leaves Key District in Pakistan

April 24, 2009 at 6:10 PM EST
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In other news, Taliban militants in a strategically significant district of Pakistan left after the military threatened to use force against them and fighting continued between government troops and rebels in Sri Lanka's civil war.
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, Taliban militants began leaving a key district in Pakistan after the government threatened to use force. The region was a valley located within 60 miles of Islamabad, the capital.

A Taliban spokesman insisted the fighters were leaving of their own accord, not under any pressure.

Earlier, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, echoed growing U.S. concerns. He told NBC News Pakistan is now closer to the tipping point of falling to Islamic extremists.

Calls for a cease-fire made little headway today in the civil war in Sri Lanka. Government troops closed in on rebels in the island nation off India. Hundreds of civilians were caught in the final push to end the long-running conflict.

We have a report from Nick Paton Walsh of Independent Television News.

NICK PATON WALSH: We flew hugging the tree line towards a war that’s been hidden from view. The army are taking us towards the no-fire zone, scene of the world’s biggest hostage crisis.

On the rough road there, you can see what the brutal end of a 25-year war has done to northern Sri Lanka: absolute devastation.

We drove for 40 minutes and barely saw one house left standing, only a handful of civilians among the many soldiers.

We don’t know whether this was done by the Tamil Tigers when they retreated or the army as it advanced, but no one lives here in this Tamil area or will do for some time. They’re either long gone or, like these, they’re still fleeing.

SRI LANKAN WOMAN (through translator): I stayed in the bunker for the past month, and for the last two days I didn’t get out of it once.

NICK PATON WALSH: The army wanted to see them getting food and hear of their pain.

SRI LANKAN WOMAN (through translator): I came here with my brother, but he died on the way.

NICK PATON WALSH: And these are the ones they sped past, squatting by the side of the road, living on or under leaves, emaciated, fallen.

But this is the prize, what the army really wanted us to see. The no-fire zone is just across this lagoon, and they say they now control all but 10 square kilometers of it.

This long strip of sand defenses behind me were, the Sri Lankan army say, breached on Monday, and this is very much a tour for the media of what they say is their victory. But further down this road and further down the no-fire zone, there are still thousands of civilians — the army don’t know exactly how many — trapped in this continuing standoff.

The U.N. says about 50,000 are there and the fighting must stop. The army says it’s well under 20,000 and only fighting can set them free.

JIM LEHRER: The U.N. now estimates nearly 6,500 civilians have been killed in the fighting in the past three months alone.

On the U.S. auto industry, Chrysler labored to finalize a deal with Fiat to avoid a possible bankruptcy next week. A White House spokesman said the administration is working around the clock to help make it happen. And Ford reported it lost $1.4 billion in the first quarter, but that was better than expected.

And that news helped Wall Street. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 119 points to close at 8,076. The Nasdaq rose 42 points to close at 1,694. For the week, the Dow lost more than 0.5 percent; the Nasdaq rose more than 1 percent.

The nation’s 19 largest banks have begun receiving report cards from the government. They were subjected to stress testing to find out just how sound they are. The results won’t be officially released to the public until May 4th. The Federal Reserve said the banks will not be allowed to fail even if they fared poorly in the testing.

Mexico scrambled today to head off a deadly outbreak of swine flu. Schools, museums, libraries, and other public sites were closed in Mexico City. In recent days, more than 1,000 people have fallen ill, and officials say as many as 60 have died.

In Atlanta, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirmed the same flu strain has appeared in Texas and California.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, Acting Director, U.S. Centers for Disease Control: What we are seeing here in the United States so far are eight cases of swine flu, primarily mild disease, all have recovered. Only one of the eight has been hospitalized.

It’s really critically important we learn more about what’s going on in Mexico, because reports from Mexico are raising concerns about much more severe disease.

JIM LEHRER: The CDC said it’s still not clear how many of the Mexican cases are, in fact, swine flu and how many are something else.

Two American journalists arrested in North Korea will face trial on criminal charges. The government announced Laura Ling and Euna Lee are accused of entering the country illegally from China. They’re also charged with unspecified hostile acts. The two were arrested on March 17th. They work for Current TV, a media venture founded by former Vice President Al Gore.

Airplane collisions with birds have more than doubled at 13 major U.S. airports since the year 2000. The Federal Aviation Administration released records on the problem today for the first time. Last January, a U.S. Airways jet had to ditch in the Hudson River in New York City after bird strikes knocked out both engines.

Democrats will hold a congressional seat in New York state. Scott Murphy claimed it today over Republican Jim Tedisco. Last month’s special election had been too close to call until a count of absentee ballots. The special election filled a seat vacated by Kirsten Gillibrand. She replaced Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate.